Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ted Sorensen: The Man Who Saved The World…Really

November 22, 1963 saw the murder and death of a young father:  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He left behind a young mother and two children. His funeral and death where everywhere saturating the airwaves for weeks on end. Especially those drums and rider less horse from the funeral procession. It would make quite a life changing impression on a just turned six year old. A month later, a thousand miles away in Montreal, another young father at the age of 34 would be gone just two days after Christmas. He also would leave behind a young wife with children: a seven year old, a six year old and a nine month old baby who would all grow up without a dad. On the day of that young father's funeral that six year old would ask his mom "is dad's funeral going to be on TV too"?

The quest for searching for my dad began that day, forever entwined with the JFK assassination.

I had already interviewed Ted Sorensen in April of this year but when I found myself in New York in September to interview three Nobel Peace laureates I gave Ted's personal secretary Laurie Morris (we had a blast co-responding with each other and shared many a belly laugh, which for me isn't that hard with the belly I poses) A quick call to see if I could just "meet and greet" with Ted. She told me to be at Ted's apartment (my heart went through the roof) at 4pm the next day. Talk about an OMG moment.

When Ted opened the door I was expecting "hi there Brent nice to meet you thanks for coming, see you later". And that would have been fine with me, I was already walking on clouds. But he graciously invited me??? in to his sanctuary: his home. We sat across from each other and chatted for about 10 minutes until I go up the courage to put my video camera (thanks here to G-d here  for reminding me to bring it "just in case") on the coffee table and turn it on. I stayed mesmerised for the next 1. 5 hours. The interview is completely unscripted as you can tell when you watch it. It wasn't so much awe, although there was a great deal of that as well, it's just that I didn't want to bore him and cover the same stuff we had in our previous interview. So what you get here is right off the top of my head and going on gut instinct. 

There was fire in his eyes…still and forever; when we spoke of Jack Kennedy.

It was more than admiration. He spoke glowingly of a brother. Forever bonded that only brothers can be. He spoke of disdain when ever other administrations were brought up for having no vision for mankind and peace.  To Ted these weren't some far out hippy utopian dreams, to Ted these were possibilities. The possibilities of reaching the stars and beyond, as JFK had done for the world.
The most important aspect I want get across about Ted is the idealism that both he and John Kennedy shared and I’m going to come back and repeat this “mantra” of idealism often.  Ted's story is essential for today’s generation as well as future generations.  The Kennedy administration, like none before, would embark on a true New Frontier. Ted once wrote as part of JFK’s Nuclear Test Ban Treaty speech:

“According to the ancient Chinese proverb, ‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step’. My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step.”

If there is a metaphor that represents the Kennedy years it is that story of when Ted and Mr. Kennedy were in an airplane together; a small little Cessna style airplane. A storm ensues and the airplane ends up upside down.  Both Mr. Kennedy and Ted share a look at each other of “did we sign up this!?” Then, as if by ‘divine providence” the plane rights itself.  A true metaphor for the journey these two visionaries embarked on together in real life.

Although a large part of this narrative is the dynamic between the two men, the story must be and will be a testament to Ted Sorensen.  For this is Ted’s story. This is his life, his journey, his idealism.

There is that word again: idealism . It is idealism that led to Ted being sought out time and time again by international icons and leaders, such as his exemplary work with none other than Nelson Mandela.
The dichotomy of Ted Sorensen. How does one remain a dreamer for the betterment of mankind and simultaneously be grounded in the real world political stage. Ted is a three dimensional character. 
How does one tell the story of a human being in a 2 hour interview?  There is only one way and that is to focus on the main characteristics of Ted.  Those characteristics are humanitarian, peacemaker, visionary, loyalty, humility, did I mention idealism?!
The power of the pen is mightier than the sword. 

Ted is a man that has fought for peace and humanity through in his lifetime.  When the world needed that the most we had President John F. Kennedy and Ted Sorensen.  And of course I’m talking about the Cuban missile crisis.  If it were not for the fortitude of Ted Sorensen and his words you and I would not be reading this right now. The world would still be reeling from the horrors of a nuclear holocaust. A holocaust that was far too real in Oct 1962 when it was discovered the Soviets had placed offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba. Missiles that would only take five minutes to reach Washington. And in those days no nuke proof bunker safely tucked away hundreds of feet below the White House. JFK handed Ted the future of the human race that night when he told him to draft a letter to Soviet premier Khrushchev in a last ditch attempt to resolve the crisis. Ted told me he was afraid but had no choice. The world depended on it.

Ted told me his concern: one wrong word too aggressive, too soft, too anything and the end of the world was at hand.

Instead the gifted word smith composed a universal message for Khrushchev to read. One that included understanding, and common ground to build together not apart. These thoughts would end up being brought to fruition in perhaps the most important speech of all mankind: the American University speech. This is crucial, in arguably the most pivotal time in the history of mankind.
It showed the world a different way out; that of dialogue, mutual respect and understanding instead of bullets.

This is what both John Kennedy and Ted Sorensen brought to the world. Like President Kennedy both he and Ted detested war. Mr. Kennedy because of his own personal experiences: losing a brother and almost dying himself aboard PT-109 and Ted for being a conscientious objector and the courage that took to stand strong and firm in his beliefs against everything that was being hurled at him.

Bravo! This is the message for this generation and future generations to carry with them in their own decision making. A message of idealism and peace.
Together they had planted a seed, a seed of idealism in the new administration of 1960: the Kennedy "New Frontier" administration.

Inspiration.  The inspiration contained in the American University speech. Indeed this may be the most important speech of all time.  This clearly demonstrates that when people stand together with a common goal of peace all is possible as the speech says: 

"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

As much as I have cursed G-d for taking my dad away when I was that six year old glaring at the TV waiting impatiently for the funeral coverage of my dad that never came, I now thank Him for that afternoon with Ted in his apartment.  In a sense, when I sat across from Ted Sorensen on Sep 16 2010 in his apartment, I had found a small piece of my dad at last.
©Brent Holland


No comments:

Post a Comment